Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Invisible Composer

Thinking about a video-blogging story told by Daniel Wolf on Renewable Music made me think about my first experience in composerly invisibility.

When I was a graduate student I got a call from a dance professor in the physical education department of my university. She was interested in choreographing a dance piece to a piece of new music, and I guess somebody told her that I would be a good person to contact. I was, of course, thrilled. It just so happened that I recently had a recital of a bunch of chamber music (maybe she heard about my stuff from someone who was there, you never know). I sent her a recording from the concert so that she would know what kind of music I wrote, and I waited to hear from her.

I waited to hear from her for a long time, and then, after several months passed I decided it was best to forget about the whole thing. I was, of course, very sad to miss the opportunity to write for dancers. Somewhere near the end of the academic year I got a call from the person who had originally contacted me. She told me that she was using several pieces from my recital for the featured piece in the final dance concert of the academic year, which was happening at the end of the week. She asked me if I could get people together to play for the performances. How could I get the dozen people who played on my concert to play on such short notice, at the end of a semester, and without compensation? What about rehearsal time and rehearsing with the dancers? What about getting a good piano into the gym where the performance would be?

This was not the situation that I imagined would be connected with this experience. We agreed that the dancers would use the recording they practiced with.

The big evening arrived. I went alone and I sat in the balcony (I guess my family must have had other things to do). I sat through an hour or so of what college people refer to as "dancing." These are groups of people wearing satiny matching outfits, dancing to a wide variety of contemporary and popular musical styles. I guess the style of dance seems to be determined by the shoes they wear and the "style" of music they dance to.

Then the big moment came. The title of the piece was "The Wall." There was a set, and there was lighting, and the piece, which used three or four movements of various pieces, lasted 20 minutes or so. It was a serious piece that told a kind of abstract story. I was really quite taken in by the whole thing, and was surprised at the way the dancers brought out aspects of the music that I simply hadn't noticed before. It was also odd to hear these pieces of chamber music played through powerful speakers at a relatively high volume, but I liked the "largeness" of it. The experience was overwhelming for me.

I guess the people in the audience liked it (though I think that they preferred the rest of the stuff on the program), but I'll never really know because nobody who was there knew who I was. They were mostly family members and friends of the dancers. As far as they were concerned "The Wall" was a strange dance set to some modern music that was on a recording. For the first time in my life I felt completely exposed and completely invisible at the same time.

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